Chapter 18: Loss

Shun Akemi was lying on the ground, as the three thugs slowly closed in, glaring at him. Next to him was the precious object he had been fighting to take, a piece of black cloth. He turned his gaze at it, his right hand lying on it.

"Always the brainiac, eh, Kazuki?"

"Come on, now, Shun..."

In those moments, memories of happier days began flashing in his mind, one after another. Memories of all the people that had been by his side, the people whom he had called friends. As the former policeman's palm was laid on the black cloth, one of the thugs took out a kukri knife with which he intended to deliver the coup de grace to the thief who tried stealing their stuff.

"You're finished, shithead. You better say your prayers." he said, menacingly, but his words did not reach Shun, as his mind was filled with blissful past memories, which dimmed out all the rest, including the world around him. His friends, and his love, who had been taken from him.

Then, he remembered the one wish he had, the wish which had guided his life until then, the wish he had shared with his beloved, one night.

"Shun, do you have a wish?" Akane had asked him, once, as they laid in bed together.

"A wish?" Shun asked, to which his girlfriend nodded "I've never put too much thought about it..." Akane smiled tenderly.

"Well, I think now's a good time for coming up with something." she said, putting a hand on his cheek, looking in his eyes.

"Akane..." he murmured, getting lost in her green eyes. It was then that his most earnest wish surfaced in his mind, and he put it into words.

"I want us to be happy." he said "Kazuki, Chouko, and the two of us… I would do anything for that wish… For you..." The woman's smile brightened.

"I love you, Shun..." she finally said, almost in a whispered, before she closed the distance between their faces, and their lips met, their arms slowly wrapping around each other's bodies.

As his mind was filled with that bright memory, which brought pain when compared to the darkness surrounding him, a single tear rolled down his cheek as he gritted his teeth and held the cloth tightly in his hand. The thug was lunging at him, ready to finish him off with the knife…

But suddenly, a bright red light shone.

When the glint faded, the thugs widened their eyes in utter shock upon seeing a man dressed in a black robe standing in front of the former policeman.

"Who the hell are you?" they asked. Shun was utterly surprised by the sight before him, He then looked at his hand and his surprise doubled once he noticed that a shuriken-shaped sign was visible on his hand.

It didn't take long for him to realize, that he had become something akin to what Hideki Ryoki had been, that he had become a Master.

And that the man in the black garb was none other than his Servant.

"Get the hell out of the way!" one of the thugs shouted as he charged towards the robed figure, landing a punch on his face. However, the mysterious man didn't budge.

"What the?" the crook exclaimed, stupefied by him. It had almost been like hitting a statue. This resilience only angered the thug, who went for another punch "Who do you think you are?!"

This time, however, his punch was grabbed, and he found himself flung around in the air and back against the floor. The other two thugs immediately charged at the man in the black garb, who, however, was quick to push back the assailants with well placed kicks. The criminal who had been flung was able to recover himself, and was about to stand back up and continue the fight.

"Don't." the man ordered, in a monotone voice which left no room for argument, but wasn't enough to faze the thug.

"You don't tell me what to do!" he shouted as he went for another punch, but he was quickly met with a spinning kick. Thinking he had a chance to end the fight there, the thug with the kukri lunged at him and waved his arm against the man's neck, hoping to embed the kukri in his throat…

...But it stopped. No matter how hard he pushed, the crook wasn't able to slit his throat. The man in the black garb took glared at the knife's holder as he took the blade in his fingers and pushed away. The thug's arm, holding the kukri, trembled visibly.

"Wha… What the hell are you?" he couldn't help but ask.

"...Just an Assassin." the man replied, in his monotone, stony voice, before swiftly grabbing the crook's wrist and throwing him aside, as the second thug came at him with a flying kick, which he was quick to dodge. The crook tried a couple punches, but Assassin swiftly parried them and, as the last one failed, he grabbed his opponent's arm and broke it effortlessly with a chop in the middle, before kicking him away. However, the crook with the kukri saw another opportunity, as the garbed man's back was facing him, and took it, lunging at him in an attempt to stab him in the back..

...But he failed, as the blade stopped on the garb, almost as if it was an armor. Astonished at this, the crook could only step back in fear, as Assassin slowly turned to him, glaring at him.

"You fight to kill..." he said, as a katana immediately materialized itself from shadow in his hand "…And so do I." Before he was able to react, the man was already behind the thug, his blade stained with blood. The petty criminal could only look down at the grievous wound that was left on his stomach, before falling down to the ground, lifeless.

The other two thugs were still trying to get back on their feet, when Assassin lunged at them and slashed them fatally, in the blink of an eye, before both could register what was happening around them. In such a short instant, their life was cut short. Their killer waved his blade, the swipe clearing it from the blood that stained it, as Shun could only watch, in utter shock. The katana disappeared from Assassin's hand, as he began stepping towards the former policeman, stopping right in front of him.

"Assassin..." Shun could only utter, as he looked up at the Servant that had just saved his life. The black garbed man simply nodded as he held out his hand for his Master to take. As soon as Shun held it back, a strange energy flowed through him, partially healing his wounds, just enough to allow him to stand back up on his feet.

"Go." Assassin then told his Master, with his monotone voice. Shun nodded, understanding what he had to do.

"Thank you." he said, before grabbing the small suitcase in which the cloth was stored and immediately running off in the direction of Misaki Hospital, where the one he had been fighting for was waiting. The Servant watched the former policeman as he hasted himself, before vanishing in the darkness, ready to appear whenever it was needed, for the sake of his Master.

Upon arriving at the hospital, Shun did not bother to look around for Goro Ryoki, whom he was supposed to meet with, and ran up the stairs, in direction of the corridor separating Chouko Torikawa from the Emergency Room. However, he failed to notice that the one who had submitted the job for him had been waiting for him, hidden behind a pillar, and had been watching as he ran to the one he wished to protect.

Little did Shun Akemi know, that only a grim surprise was waiting for him, and that what he had been fighting for was already lost.

As he entered the corridor, he was greeted by the sight of four surgeons carrying a body in a hospital bed. The body was covered by a shroud, and there was no doubt that it was a deceased patient. At that sight, the small suitcase fell from the former policeman's grip, as he hesitantly got closer at the body, with only one hope in his heart.

"Please let it not be her..."

That hope's light dimmed more and more with each passing second, as the unbearable silence of the surgeons surrounded him and the echo of his scared steps were the only thing to be heard. He put a hand on the shroud covering the body, in order to ascertain its identity…

..And what he saw beneath the shroud was the lifeless face of Chouko Torikawa.

At that sight, every word died in his throat. He just stared at the girl he had just lost, with forlorn and despairing eyes, for seconds that passed slowly, almost as if time had stopped in sorrow. This frozen eternity was further underlined by the mournful silence of the surgeons…

Until one of them broke the silence.

"We're sorry for your loss, Akemi-san..."

That phrase only prompted him to turn and rush out of the hospital in disbelief, refusal, and despair. Only one thought was in his mind.

"No..."

His nightmare had come true. His steps led him to the entrance of the hospital. He sat on one of the steps which led to it, his gaze forlornly lowered, as all of the memories he had with Chouko Torikawa inevitably flooded in his mind.

Blissful memories, precious memories, of days that could never return. A sorrowful train of thought that was to be interrupted by the sound of Goro Ryoki's voice as he stepped towards the devastated former policeman.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Shun..."

Behind the words of the CEO seemed to lie true, genuine concern and intent to share his pain. Shun remained silent, and did not raise his face and eyes to the old man, not even as he continued speaking.

"Each person in this world has his own fate. That includes that little girl, of course..." he said, thoughtfully raising his gaze at the night sky. "One may think of fate as a game. In life, you're dealt with a set of cards and, in order to win, the only way is to be a good player. Stick to the hand you're dealt and use it at its best." The former policeman hardly listened to his words, since his mind was already overwhelmed by his grief over the loss of Chouko. After speaking, Goro let out a sigh and took his glasses off of his face.

"And this game is not over yet." he said "I will stop at nothing to claim what is mine, and I'll play my cards." He then turned to the despairing young man "The question is, what will you do now, Shun? You still have a good hand." As those words reached his ears, Shun's fists clenched in anger and sadness.

"A good hand, you say?" he thought "And for what, now? I couldn't use it to protect her…" He felt like he had failed as a human being, since what he had loved and attempted to protect was gone.

"If you have nothing to play for..." Goro made a suggestion "You can always come with me. I could use a man with your ability..." Shun Akemi slowly rose from the steps leading to the entrance door of Misaki Hospital, but his fists were still clenched and his head was hung low. Finally, he replied, almost tiredly…

"...Fine. Have it your way."

He saw nothing else to play his cards for. Slowly, a smirk made its way on the face of the CEO of Ryoki Corporation.

"Smart choice." he said "I'll be waiting for you in my office tomorrow morning." He then turned his back on him and began moving his steps in the direction of home, opening his umbrella as it was beginning to rain. Shun, however, simply stood there, his back turned to the entrance of the hospital in which Chouko Torikawa had died, never raising his head.

And then, after a minute, he began walking away from the building. Broken, no more than a shell of who he was once. His steps led him along the length of the closest street, as relentless raindrops crashed down on him. Weightless, yet heavy, upon touching a soul of a grieving man. There was only one figure who silently followed him, like a shadow. A black-garbed man, who almost looked like one.

Eventually, his steps came to a halt, his legs gave out and he fell on his knees, as the rain got more intense. Unseen tears began trailing down his cheeks, like a bitter waterfall.

And then, he finally rose his head to the heavens, and began crying out in pain, letting out all of his grief, all of his despair at his failure towards his friends, and towards himself.

As he cried out, Assassin was the only silent witness to the abyss that his Master had fell into. There was no need for words. He would have walked in that abyss alongside him, as his Servant.